Why we became befrienders
Buckinghamshire Mind has been awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Below Ihuoma and Mike blog about their volunteering roles with the local Mind.
I wanted to keep myself occupied and to try to keep my grey cells in working order
I put myself forward to be a volunteer befriender for Buckinghamshire Mind in March 2016, shortly after retiring. I wanted to keep myself occupied and to try to keep my grey cells in working order. And it is good to feel you are giving back to the community.
I had read that one in four people experience some form of mental health problem in any year. So, it ticked my boxes when Buckinghamshire Mind advertised for befrienders. I was accepted for a training session and then got the green light from the cheerfully entitled Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
I was nervous meeting my first befriendee for the first time. The Buckinghamshire Mind befriending support worker took me in to my befriendee’s house, where he was largely housebound, and made the introductions. Then it was over to me! I just chatted to him and that broke the ice, as it would meeting anyone for the first time. I wasn’t there as a medical person or expert; just to provide company, understanding and sometimes, if appropriate, encouragement or ideas that might help.
We met once a week for six months. I hope that allowing him to talk - sometimes about his difficulties and often about anything but his difficulties – gave him a welcome boost.
Since then, I have befriended seven other people. I am always asked to befriend men because there are plenty on Buckinghamshire Mind’s books but too few male befrienders. They have had a range of mental health problems, from severe depression, to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and an inability to go outside in daylight because of body dysmorphia. All but two of my befriendees have mentioned suicide at one time or other.
I haven’t ‘cured’ anyone. I like to think that I have been a friendly shoulder to lean on; a reliable person in their life for six months to a year; a break in their weekly routine; and maybe sometimes a source of motivation and thoughts to help them move forward.
"For me, it has been rewarding, eye-opening and, at times, challenging."
For me, it has been rewarding, eye-opening and at times challenging. It has been enjoyable meeting people with different interests and experiences, who have expanded my own horizons. And Buckinghamshire Mind’s staff have always been there for me to help with queries I may have and giving me the confidence that I am making a useful contribution.
I first volunteered when I was in my second year of university and I got so much out of that experience. When I finished my Masters, like many of my peers I struggled to find work straightaway that related to what I wanted to do; working in mental health. So I started applying for voluntary positions.
I have now had three befriending partnerships through Buckinghamshire Mind and they have all been very different experiences.
Volunteering with Buckinghamshire Mind was a really good opportunity for me to gain some experience of working with people with a range of different mental health experiences. I have learnt so much from the service users that I have worked with.
I have had two partnerships in which the service users had hospital admissions as a result of a decline in their mental health. One stayed in hospital for the remainder of our partnership and we continued our befriending sessions over the phone.
"She has told me it has been helpful to have someone to talk to."
The service user that I am currently partnered with admitted herself to hospital and was discharged recently and we are continuing with the befriending partnership. She has told me it has been helpful to have someone to talk to. Particularly as she had been on a mental health service waiting list for over a year, in which time her access to support was limited.
"People who are waiting for more specialised support are able to at least have someone to talk to in the meantime."
For me it has been encouraging to see that people who are waiting for more specialised support are able to at least have someone to talk to in the meantime.
The service user in my previous partnership also said it was helpful to have someone to talk to. Hearing those comments were a reminder of how important the befriending service is for people who are struggling.
I am so proud to be part of a service that is helpful to so many people – and I plan to be a part of it for a long time to come.
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